A decent, family man

2008:

Fearing the raw and at times angry emotions of his supporters may damage his campaign, John McCain on Friday urged them to tone down their increasingly personal denunciations of Barack Obama, including one woman who said she had heard that the Democrat was “an Arab.”

Each time he tried to cool the crowd, he was rewarded with a round of boos…

McCain passed his wireless microphone to one woman who said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not uh — he’s an Arab. He’s not — ” before McCain retook the microphone and replied:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

Source: Politico

2012:

Just over 24 hours after Rep. Paul Ryan was tapped for the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket, President Obama today welcomed the Wisconsin congressman to the race, branding him the “ideological leader of Republicans in Congress.”…

“Just yesterday, my opponent chose his running mate, the ideological leader of  Republicans in Congress, Mr. Paul Ryan. I want to congratulate Mr. Ryan. I know him. I welcome him to the race,” Obama said.

Some members of the crowd began booing at the mention of Ryan, but Obama cut them off.

He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney’s vision, but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with,” he said.

Source: abcnews.com

This jumped out at me for a couple of reasons. The McCain incident has rankled since 2008 because of the racism embedded in any discussion of people from the Middle East, which I’m especially attuned to as a half-Kurd (on jauntier days I call myself a Demi Kurd). Unlike Bush’s memorable moment immediately after 9/11 when he distinguished between the terrorists and all Muslims, or Chris Christie’s more recent statements against Islamophobic bigots, McCain instead made a clear distinction between being “a decent family man” and being an Arab. That this weak tea – substituting more indirect racism for outright racism – was his solution to the whirlwind created by his aggressively xenophobic running mate speaks volumes about the level of discourse during that campaign.

The other thing I find fascinating is this obsession with “decent, family man” as a cultural marker for all that is virtuous. Of course a decent family man is a good thing to be – that should go without saying. But it seems to function as a marker that is both outside of and supersedes all politics – if you are declared a decent, family man, it seems to say, then your politics (however toxic) are legitmate.

ADDENDUM: I noticed after posting that “decent family man” was not the only counterweight to “Arab” in the McCain quote above – “citizen” is also posed as the opposite of “Arab.” Apparently Arab-Americans were required to be “with us or agin’ us” when it came to McCain/Palin.

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One Response to A decent, family man

  1. Alpiston says:

    It does go without saying that a decent family man is a good thing to be, but every time I hear that phrase I wonder what is meant, specifically – is there a subtext, and what is it? A few things are implied and non-controversial, e.g., not physically abusing your kids or spouse, providing for their shelter, food, general well-being, not being an axe-murderer or tax-evader or undocumented alie… oh, wait, this is getting controversial already. A huge percentage of people, many of whom have incomes in the top 2%, could be considered tax evaders, legal and illegal. Hell, corporations (and since corporations are people, surely these people are “good family men”) have entire departments devoted to minimizing tax liability and lobbyists whose job it is to change the laws to minimize tax liability for those companies. And plenty of undocumented aliens (the scourge/pariahs of our country, according to the tea party) are hard-working, loving, devoted heads of their families. Many of them have sacrificed living in the same country as their families in order to provide better for them. Other than odd summer jobs during college, Paul Ryan has never worked a day in the private sector, yet he would impose a radical new vision for our tax code and social safety-net in order to shore up the private sector’s role in our society (but I digress…). He is a millionaire due to inheritance from his wife’s mother, so in terms of being a provider, is that being a good family man? Opportunistic = good? Rearing children is implicit in the phrase “good family man”, but can a single father be a good family man? How about a gay father? Probably not so much for the Ryan, but maybe for Obama. I submit that the word “family” itself is loaded and almost code for “normal” in this context, which is itself code for whatever the speaker, and listener, wants and is, therefore, without objective definition and dangerous.

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